Hybrid apps use a blend of native and web development, where the core of the application is written using web technologies.

When thinking about creating a new mobile application experience for your internal or external customers, you are often faced with a range of options. Is building your application solely with native tools the right choice? Should your team only look at developing with web technologies? What about some of the hybrid solutions out there? 

It’s important to remember that picking the right solution for your next application (or first) depends on several factors: Your budget, the timeline, your team’s experience with the technology and, finally, your target audience.

So, with that, let’s explore the three primary methods of mobile application development and discuss some of the benefits and drawbacks of each of these paths. By the end of the article, you should have a better grasp of your choices and be able to determine the right solution to help you achieve your mobile application development goals. First, let’s define the methods.

Native mobile app development

When people speak of a native mobile application, they are usually referring to an application that has been written using the native development language and tools specific to that platform. For example: A native iOS application would be written in either Swift or Objective-C and compiled using Xcode, while a native Android application would have been developed using Kotlin or Java and compiled using Android Studio.

Benefits of developing a native app

Since these applications are developed using the platform’s default solutions, developers have full and direct access to all of the device’s capabilities. This can include the device’s sensors, the user’s address book, biometrics scanning, and whatever the latest and greatest new bit of technology the phone offers. Native applications tend to also be more performant since their code is ‘closer to the metal.’ In addition to being faster, you will also have access to all of the native user interface (UI) controls and layouts. While you will probably want to style them to fit your applications’ theme or design system, you will also want them to behave and interact like any other UI element on that platform.

The downside to building a native app

Any application written for iOS using Swift cannot run on Android, and vice versa. Meaning, you have to develop and maintain separate codebases specific to each platform, which can require more software engineers and double your budget, assuming that you’d want to release your application for both iOS and Android. In addition, your application is only available through each platform’s app stores, subjecting it to their respective rules and restrictions. This means for every release, whether it is a new feature or a bug fix, the same approval process must occur. This can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Web app development

For some, this uncertainty about having your application approved by faceless app store gatekeepers is too risky. There are also stories of top-tier applications found to be violating regulations and being removed from the app store, which can cause a loss of revenue. Because of this, some developers have turned to building a web-only application.

Web app development benefits

Building web apps gives development teams the freedom to build applications outside the app stores and offer their application to other mobile and desktop users. These are just traditional web applications written in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for which you can leverage a wide range of frameworks and libraries, such as Angular, React, Vue, or even vanilla JavaScript.

Why web app development is limiting

When taking the web app development approach, your mobile application is restricted to the capabilities of the user’s mobile browser (and its quirks). This means it will not have full access to the user device for things like their address book and more. While this has improved over the years with access to features like GPS and the camera, depending on the features needed for your application this could become an issue.

One of the larger challenges for developing applications using web technologies is that many of the common application UI controls, e.g. tab navigator, do not natively exist and have to be recreated, which might lead to your application not working quite right. That said, many of the UI libraries have taken great care in replicating most of the common UI components necessary for your app, so this risk is reduced.

Expanding options with Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

In 2017, Google introduced the concept of Progressive Web Applications (PWAs), which allow these types of applications to adopt more app-like features such as standard app icons, push notifications, offline capabilities, and more. Microsoft and Google have since made these types of applications available in their respective app stores, which vastly simplifies the process of putting apps in the hands of users. 

For some development teams, this solution is appealing given that they can easily create an application from a single codebase, which can then be used on a variety of platforms and quickly updated with a new feature or bug fix by simply deploying to your server.

Hybrid mobile app development

This solution is a blend, hence the name hybrid, of both native and web development. Where the core of the application is written using web technologies (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), which are then encapsulated within a native application. Through the use of plugins, these applications can have full access to the mobile device’s features. To better understand this approach, let’s break down how it all fits together.

The heart of a hybrid mobile application is still just an application that is written with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. However, instead of the app being shown within the user’s browser, it is run from within a native application and its own embedded browser, which is invisible to the user. 

This web code is then embedded into a native application wrapper using a solution like Ionic’s Capacitor. This creates a native shell application that is just the platform’s webview component in which it will load your web application. For example, an iOS application would use the WKWebView to display our application, while on Android it would use the WebView element to provide the same function. Now, with just a single web code base, you can deliver a mobile application for each of the platform’s app stores.

Ionic’s Enterprise SDK

Ionic offers a complete ecosystem of supported plugins and other enterprise-grade features as part of its Enterprise SDK. These plugins give access to the full suite of capabilities of a user’s mobile device. For instance, FaceID on an iOS device or access to on-device storage can be easily done by installing a plugin. Additionally, the SDK’s library of UI components look and feel like their native counterparts, giving you a complete set of building blocks for your hybrid mobile app.

Delivering changes to your hybrid app is easier than ever with Enterprise SDK’s Live Updates—giving developers the ability to publish feature updates and fix bugs in real time without disrupting functionality. Your team will also have access to Ionic’s support and advisory services, which ensure that your apps will continue to provide the best experience for your users.

The limitations of a web-only application are easily overcome with hybrid app development, allowing your application to have parity with native applications in their features. And because the application is not built with pure native code, your web teams can get to work quickly to build these native applications, saving organizations time and money.

Final Thoughts

So, what is the right choice for your application? Unless you are creating a highly performant game or other similar application, hybrid mobile app development might be the right choice. It offers an easier development approach, cost savings, and compatibility across a variety of platforms. Choosing an all encompassing hybrid app development toolkit, like Ionic’s Enterprise SDK, works to simplify each phase of the development lifecycle with out of the box solutions at each phase of the journey. 

To learn more about the essential elements of hybrid app development, check out Ionic’s Hybrid vs. Native ebook.

(This article was originally published here.)

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